Winding baits around the expanses of grass the Potomac River has to offer was certainly the ticket for the top pros in the Tackle Warehouse Pro Circuit Presented by Bad Boy Mowers event on the tidal fishery. Sticking around mid-river, the bulk of the Top 10 in the Federal Ammunition Stop 5 Presented by Lucas Oil probed some of the Potomac’s staple creeks for their catch.
Running south to Potomac Creek, winner Jacopo Gallelli was really the only pro to find something off the beaten path and it produced solid limits every day – including his 20-pound limit on the final day – en route to his first MLF win.
The rest of the pros did their best to avoid pressure in creeks like Chicamuxen, Quantico and Mattawoman, leaning on some tried-and-true baits to get it done.
Having one of the most consistent performances of the tournament, Michael Neal kept his hot streak rolling with another Top 10 and almost squeaked out his first major win.
“Pretty much 17 of my 20 fish came from one place across the river,” Neal says of his spot south of Leesylvania. “The other three came from down south. I went down south the first day after I quite fishing at 10 and I never went back down there until [Sunday morning].”
While his spot south in Aquia produced some fish, Neal’s juice was a stretch of river covered with eelgrass and milfoil that he made passes back and forth over. Like you do a lot on the Potomac, he says covering water and hitting everything you could in the area was a key to success.
“There were little areas where you seemed to get a bite every time you went through there, but it wasn’t like you pull up, sit right there and throw here like you do in most places,” he adds of his primary spot. “It’s just a stretch. It was just a ¾ of a mile-long stretch.”
For his ChatterBait, Neal went with a 7-foot, 2-inch, medium-heavy Denali Kovert on a 6.3:1 Daiwa Tatula 100 spooled with 20-pound Sunline Sniper. Neal also got some key bites on a SPRO E Pop later on in the event, which he threw on a 7-foot, medium Denali Lithium cranking rod with 7.1:1 Daiwa Tatula 100 spooled with 40-pound Sunline SX1 braid.
If you want an example of someone who doesn’t pay attention to tides, yet has a great thing going on tidal fisheries, look no further than Cody Meyer.
“I know nothing about tides, I know nothing about Delta tides in California, so literally I put the trolling motor down and picked it up at the end of the day,” he says.
Sticking to Mattawoman mainly, though he did run across to Leesylvania some, Meyer figured it’s better to stick to areas you know fish live in and fish until you run into them, or they start to bite.
“I just figured if I learned how to catch them through the tide swings in an area I knew had fish I’d be better off,” says Meyer. “That’s what I did last time and finished fourth (in the 2017 FLW Tour event) and that’s what I did this time. Just get in an area and don’t leave.”
Keeping his baits as simple as his pattern, Meyer didn’t need many rods on the deck.
“I probably caught 80 percent of my fish on a ChatterBait, a few on a swim jig and a few flipping pads,” he says.
A 3/8-ounce Z-Man Evergreen ChatterBait Jack Hammer trailered with a Yamamoto Zako and a 3/8-ounce Evergreen Grass Ripper swim jig with a Yamamoto Paddle Tail Zako were his best winding presentations. For both baits, he rolled with a 7-foot, 3-inch Daiwa Tatula Elite rod in the medium-heavy Brent Ehrler model with a 6.3:1 Daiwa Steez A and Daiwa J-Flouro Samurai line in 18-pound for the ChatterBait and 16-pound for the swim jig.
Though it didn’t produce many fish, his flipping program helped. For it, a Yamamoto Flappin’ Hog flipped on an 8-foot, Daiwa Tatula Elite rod, 8.1:1 Daiwa Tatula Pitch/Flip reel with a 3/8-ounce 1st Contact Tungsten weight and a 3/0 Owner Jungle Flipping hook did the trick.
Rookie pro Ricky Robinson hails from the Tennessee River, so it isn’t a major shock that he fit in on the Potomac. Current produced by the tides is obviously the deal on the river, though Robinson was keying on a different type of current.
“There was moving water in there from that discharge, and I just couldn’t help it,” Robinson says of being drawn to Quantico Creek. “I’d just keep going back and forth from the discharge to the grass all week long.”
Robinson’s area spanned from the discharge pipe from the power plant in Quantico to several hundred yards into the creek. While the discharge was good for obvious reasons, the rest of his area featured scattered clumps of milfoil, which he probed with a vibrating jig.
“The thing of it is, what I was doing with that [vibrating jig] is I was letting it get down in that grass and letting that blade turn as long as it could vibrate in the grass before I even tried to jerk it out of there,” he says. “You get it down in there and keep it moving, that’s when they’re going to hit it. Let it get in it. That was the ticket to catching most of my fish.”
His vibrating jig of choice was a 3/8-ounce black and blue vibrating jig from Driftwood Custom Baits custom made with a 6/0 hook and trailed with a matching YUM Christie Craw. However, his two biggest fish of the week came on an MGC Custom Tackle swim jig.
With his rookie campaign not going as well as he’d like, Robinson was tickled to be in contention heading into Championship Sunday. Even without a win, he’s still proud of how the week went.
“[Sunday] was the day you dream about having, especially tournament fishing. I didn’t get the biggun’ I needed, but I caught a decent bag of fish and caught plenty of fish.”
Adrian Avena was one of the few anglers in the field with plenty of experience on the Potomac and he utilized that knowledge to bank another Top 10 on the tidal system.
While most anglers in the field focused their efforts on grass, Avena knew that mixing in hard cover would allow him a better shot at big bites.
“I was just running all over to different places,” Avena says. “I never really caught them off one place, I caught them up and down the river.
“I’d start out on hard cover on a pier, flipping a ½-ounce jig, and I was kind of letting that tide get out a little. Once that tide got slack I ran a couple creeks and caught ‘em frogging and then flipped up a few more and then ran south and caught a few on a buzzbait in some shallow areas.”
A ½-ounce All-Terrain Tackle Rattling A.T. Jig matched with a junebug-colored 3-inch Berkley PowerBait Pit Boss was the ticket for flipping wood or docks. A 7-foot, 3-inch Abu Garcia Fantasista Premier, an Abu Garcia Revo ALX in the 8:1 gear ratio and 30-pound Berkley X5 braid with a 15-pound Berkley Trilene 100% Fluorocarbon leader was his choice for a flipping set up.
On the topwater side, Avena used a 5/16-ounce Accent Jacob Wheeler Buzzbait with a 3-inch Berkley PowerBait Pit Boss in black and a SPRO Bronzeye Poppin’ Frog in natural red. With his topwater offerings, Avena went with a 7-foot, 3-inch, medium-heavy Abu Garcia Veracity rod, an Abu Garcia Revo Rocket and either 20-pound Berkley Trilene 100% Fluorocarbon for the buzzbait or 50-pound Berkley X5 braid for the frog.
“I think having that Revo Rocket, which is a 10.1:1 gear ratio, allows you to make more casts throughout the course of the day and makes a big difference,” he adds.
With years of experience fishing tidal waters, Avena ran a lot of stuff that has treated him well in the past. Because of that, he was able to put himself at the right place at the right time due to his knowledge of tides, which he believes is something that anglers new to tidal bodies of water get psyched out by.
“A lot guys aren’t doing anything wrong, but they’re just not confident (in fishing tides),” he says. “People don’t realize how much these fish will move with the tide. On a higher tide I try to fish stuff a bass is going to be in and a lot of times that’s going to be hard cover. On that lower water it’s more of that outer edge deal, and I like fishing creeks too.”
The Potomac may be a long way from Justin Cooper’s home in Louisiana, but he fit right in and banked his second Top 10 of the season.
“This was my first time to the Potomac and first time fishing tidal water,” the rookie pro says. “I’m a river rat at heart, you know, I grew up fishing the Red River with my dad, so I love river fishing. I also love grass fishing. I live not too far from Rayburn and a bladed jig and hydrilla is something I love to do there, so I felt comfortable and confident in what I was doing and had a great tournament.”
Weighing 17 of his 20 bass on a vibrating jig, Cooper was focusing on specific grass mixtures around Aquia Creek and Belmont Bay.
“My best spot was a point of grass on a flat,” he says. “It was just a long flat with a little bit of a point that had the right mix of hydrilla and milfoil. That was key for my other spots, too. I think that hydrilla/milfoil mix was the deal.
“The tide also had to be high. For me, it needed to be higher so there was more water above the grass so I could throw that [vibrating jig] through the grass. At low tide, that grass was barely below the surface or it was clumped up on the surface and you couldn’t fish it well.”
A 3/8-ounce vibrating jig trailed with a junebug-colored V&M Baits RC Craw, which he trimmed the sides off, was his juice. He threw it on an MHX CB906 blank that his dad built for him and shortened by 3 inches for him, a 7.3:1 gear ratio Daiwa Tatula and 18-pound Sunline Sniper.
Though Cooper tried other trailers, he believes that the RC Craw helped get him more bites.
“I used every one of the RC Craws I had,” he laughs. “The pallet comes in this week, so I’ve been using some from the guy that pours them. I tried some other different trailers throughout the week, but they just didn’t work as well. I may catch one or two on something else, but I’d put an RC Craw on and get a bunch of bites again.”
Leading the tournament over the first three days, rookie Lawson Hibdon just couldn’t keep up the pace he set the first two days.
A mix of grass and hard cover carried the Missouri pro to his first Pro Circuit Top 10, with the majority of his fish coming from the back of Aquia Creek.
“There’s just a big grass flat with a 6- or 7-foot channel running right through the middle of it and there’s a ton of fish on it,” Hibdon says. “There are four pieces of wood out there, two of them were not great, two of them were awesome. I caught 13 fish off of one log and there’s a cedar tree that I had to have caught 7 or 8 off it. Now, I culled a lot of those fish, but those were the fillers.”
Hibdon also pitched a jig around the bridge in the back of the creek and even went way up the creek to flip some wood. But the grass and wood around the channel was the main program.
As far as Potomac baits go, Hibdon didn’t throw anything shocking. A weightless Berkley PowerBait MaxScent The General, a homemade 5/16-ounce jig with a Zoom Z Craw Jr. and a 3/8-ounce Z-Man Evergreen ChatterBait Jack Hammer with a Z-Man Razor ShadZ trailer stayed on the deck all week.
While most colors would probably work, Hibdon keyed in on black and blue across the board.
“The Jack Hammer was black and blue, the General was black and blue and my jig was black and blue with a blue sapphire trailer,” he says. “It just seemed like black and blue was working this week.
“That blue sapphire trailer seemed to matter the first few days because I threw a black and blue trailer on the back of the jig and they’ knock the crap out of it, you’d jerk and there’d be nothing. With that blue sapphire one I guess they just keyed into it a little better. Plus, I think these fish eat a lot of these blue fiddler crabs in these creeks. So, they key on blue stuff.”
Switching between a Neko-rigged Yamamoto Senko and a 3/8-ounce Z-Man Evergreen ChatterBait Jack Hammer trailered with a Yamamoto Zako, Shin Fukae worked the grass in Chicamuxen Creek for everything it had en route to his finish.
“I was fishing mostly, no secret, a Yamamoto Senko all day,” Fukae says. “Then when the tide would go up, I’d switch to the bladed jig because the fish would spread out. I just fished super, super slow.”
Things got rolling quickly for Fukae on Day 1, but sharing the area with multiple competitors took its toll by the final day.
“I caught maybe 20 to 25 keepers the first day and had my limit in maybe 10 or 15 minutes,” he says. “The second day was slower, but they still ate it. [Day 4] I just ran out of fish and had to try and make adjustments.”
Happy with the week, Fukae is also thankful to have some help on the road while his wife is back in Japan.
“I just want to thank the Hardy family,” Fukae says. “The last four or five tournaments they have been helping get my truck and boat to the next event. I couldn’t fish without their help.”
Terry Bolton’s resume on the Potomac consists of mainly triple-digit finishes, however, this week he broke the slump and cruised to a Top 10.
The key for him to overcome his Potomac slump was to “throw things with skirts” and lockdown in a good area.
“There was really anything too special to it, I just stayed in a good area,” Bolton says. “I fished ChatterBaits, swim jigs and things that catch a better grade of fish and made a lot of casts. I had a good area that had a good quality of fish in it.
“I also didn’t lose many all week aside from [Sunday]. That makes a big difference. This place seems to be a numbers game. You just catch fish and cull, cull, cull. In the past I think I would drag around worms and I think with the way the fish move around with the tides and position you’re better off to throw a bait that comes up in the water column and covers more water.”
Fishing from Mattawoman to Leesylvania, Bolton threw either a 3/8-ounce black and blue swim jig with a matching Zoom Z Craw Jr. or a 3/8-ounce Z-Man Evergreen ChatterBait Jack Hammer for the bulk of his catch. He also mixed in a ½-ounce War Eagle Buzzbait with a white Zoom Horny Toad from time to time. Bolton threw most everything on a 7-foot, 3-inch Jenko Gambler rod paired with a 6.8:1 Lew’s reel.
Another rookie making his Top 10 debut, Josh Bragg milked stretches of grass in Quantico and Aquia creeks for his strong finish.
“This was my very first time here and it took a little bit for me to adjust to it with that tide swing, but I think I kind of figured it out a little as the week went on,” Bragg says. “I was just fishing shallow flats with grass on them in 2 to 4 feet of water. It was all milfoil and eelgrass mixed on a shallow flat with a creek channel that kind of swung in there close to it.
“I think I had the right area because I was getting a 4-plus-pound bite a day. My bigger bites came down in Aquia, but I could catch an 11- or 12-pound limit in Quantico before heading down there.”
Early in the week, a 4-inch Megabass Spark Shad in green pumpkin on a 3/16-ounce Trokar Swim Blade hook was the ticket. As the event progressed, he also mixed in a Zoom Magnum UltraVibe Speed Worm in tilapia magic with a 1/8-ounce weight and a Megabass Uoze Swimmer Swim Jig with a Zoom Super Speed Craw. He threw everything on either Megabass Orachi XX or Levante rods.